Maori unity over water may already be splintering.
Forty-five of Maoridom’s most powerful leaders yesterday gathered at Ngaruawahia in the wake of a hui convened by King Tuheitia – and later made it clear they were not going to be rolled by a new pan-Maori body in any discussions with the Crown over Maori rights and interests in water.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key flatly rejected the claim by King Tuheitia that Maori had always owned the water.
“In law he’s just plain wrong; all the advice we’ve had is that the common law position is the correct position, which is that no-one owns water.”
Mr Key also rejected meeting a pan-Maori body ahead of individual iwi with water claims – and reiterated that there would be no national settlement on water.
Good. The view of King Tuheitia that all water is owned by Maori and should be controlled solely by Maori must not be accepted.
There also appeared to be overwhelming support for the establishment of a pan-Maori body representing broad Maori interests, including the Maori Women’s Welfare League, the kohanga reo movement, the Maori Council and others appointed by an eminent group, including Tuwharetoa head Sir Tumu te Heuheu.
But the Iwi Leaders Group yesterday issued a statement confirming a resolution had been passed unanimously endorsing the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group and its continued engagement with the Crown.
Meanwhile, Sir Tumu said he was not even in the room when the vote was taken – and had nothing to do with his name being put forward. He confirmed that he would not be nominating anyone for such a body.
So the proposed chair wasn’t even in favour of the resolution. It looks like people were just being polite.
What annoyed me over King Tuheitia’s views is the damage it does to the generally tolerant New Zealand we have. There are genuinely divergent views on issues around the Treaty and Maori in New Zealand. That is inevitable, and will always be the case.
However many, even most, people place greater value of having relative harmony in race relations than insisting that the law must reflect their personal views. Take the Maori seats as one issue.
I personally believe it is incredibly wrong to have seats in Parliament where voters of only one race can enrol in that seat. They were set up at a time when only property owners had votes, and was a way to allow Maori who tended to communally own property to vote. They were a well intentioned device, that should have never lasted more than a few years.
Ironically they then became a method of disenfranchisement for Maori, as they were forced to remain on the Maori roll until the 1970s.
But regardless of their history, I quite strongly feel that a country should not have electoral seats reserved for people based on who their parents were.
However I do not advocate scrapping the Maori seats unilaterally. Why? Because I respect that for many Maori, even the majority of Maori, they have become something highly valued and prized. That if Pakeha New Zealanders voted in a referendum to abolish the Maori seats, despite the desire of most Maori New Zealanders to retain them, then it would damage race relations. So I, and many others, do not advocate an abolition in the interests of a harmonious New Zealand. I would like to see the day where the majority of Maori agree to their abolition – something very different to being out-voted on abolishing them.
Now this tolerance and desire for harmony should go both ways in my view. As someone born in New Zealand, who has no other country they call home, I get upset when the Maori King advocates that I have no rights to water in New Zealand – that Maori should control, manage and allocate water. And a hui is held to seemingly advance this view.
And I am not alone in getting upset, when such claims are asserted. The vast majority of New Zealanders find such a claim repugnant, and the impact of such posturing is to diminish the pool of goodwill that exists. It will create a climate where support for settling historical grievances will evaporate, where tolerance of the Maori seats will diminish.
Tolerance is a two-way street.